Who will police the police?

The law of the jungle seems to have prevailed in Pakistan as the trigger-happy police is killing innocent citizens with impunity. On January 13, Karachi police just added another dark chapter to its history. On this day, former SSP Malir Rao Anwar, an assassin par excellence, allegedly killed 27-year-old Naqeebullah Mehsud, along with three other ‘suspected terrorists’, in a staged encounter in Karachi. On the same evening, Anti-Car Lifting Cell of Karachi police gunned down 19-year-old Intizar Ahmad, an only child, for no explicable reason. In its preliminary report, an high-level inquiry committee has maintained that Naqeebullah Mehsud was killed in a ‘coordinated fake encounter’, and he had no history of militancy or criminal activity. Similarly, a CCTV footage shows that ACLC officials in two cars and two motorcycles stopped Intizar’s car to confirm his presence before opening fire to kill him. Strangely, former SSP Rao Anwar who is a senior police officer has absconded to avoid arrest and legal process just like a habitual offender. It is really unfortunate that while Karachi police is currently on a killing spree in the city, the Sindh government is just busy in trying to remove incumbent IGP Sindh AD Khowaja.

This series of extra-judicial killings in Karachi certainly shows the sorry state of Sindh police. In fact, the state of policing in other provinces in Pakistan is by no means better than that of Sindh police. In the absence of any effective internal or external oversight, many rogue police officers like SSP Rao Anwar are killing innocent people at will by staging fake encounters. It has also been observed that the police personnel often resort to excessive use of force while dispersing angry protestors. In the absence of any training and capacity to handle a mob, they generally use deadly firearms rather than employing non-lethal tactics to disperse a crowd of people. This is what we saw in Kasur this month when the local police killed two protestors, who were demanding justice for hapless little girl Zainab, while resorting to straight fire at them. Similarly, in June 2014, Lahore police, in a brutal display of force, killed fourteen activists of PAT in Model Town while opening indiscriminate fire on unarmed protestors, including women and children, in an ‘anti- encroachment derive’.

The thesis of ‘state monopoly on violence’ or the ‘monopoly of legitimate use of physical force’ was first expounded by German sociologist Max Weber a century ago. This thesis essentially maintains that the state alone has the right to use or authorise the use of physical force. In this context, he defines the state as a “human community that successfully claims the monopoly of legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” Significantly restricting the individual’s right to use physical force in a polity, now this Weberian concept has somehow become a defining characteristic of the modern state. Weber also recognised the police and the military as the two main instruments of the state for the dispensation of its so-called monopoly on violence.

Police is the civil force of a state whose job is to enforce the law, prevent and solve crimes, and maintain public order and safety. In order to enable the police to effectively discharge these functions, the state adequately empowers this organisation. It essentially delegates its authority to the police, including the monopoly of legitimate use of physical force. However, this authority is by no means arbitrary, unrestrained and unlimited. The police are always supposed to exercise this authority within defined parameters and legal framework. An effective regulatory mechanism is always required to regulate the behaviour and actions of the police. Just like the typical who-will-guard-the-guardian conundrum, there has also been a sort of policing-the-police dilemma in Pakistan. The trigger-happy attitude of the police have become its two dominant characteristics

‘Police accountability’ is a crucial concept which has always been an integral part any efficient policing regime in world. This sort of accountability involves an effective system of internal and external checks aimed at ensuring that police perform their functions properly, fairly and within the bounds of law. It aims to prevent the police from misusing or abusing their powers, and to prevent political authorities from misusing their control over the police. This system is generally meant to uphold police integrity, deter misconduct, and to restore or enhance public confidence in policing. Police accountability essentially demands an effective oversight involving multiple actors representing the different layers of modern-day democracies, including the executive, the parliament, the judiciary, the civil society, local communities and some independent oversight bodies. At the same time, for the speedy redressal of public grievances, there should be also an efficient forum to deal with public complaints against police officials. This public complaints body should be accessible to the public. Moreover, it should also be fully capable to investigate allegations and recommend disciplinary sanctions in addition to referring the cases for criminal prosecution against the wrong-doers.

A number of police accountability regimes are currently operating in different countries across the world. The British policing model is considered to be one of the best models in the world. This policing model has essentially incorporated an efficient police accountability regime. Replacing the Independent Police Complaints Commissions (IPCC) established in 2004, the independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) has been established in the UK this month. This reformed police watchdog is responsible for overseeing the system to handle complaints against the police officials. It is a typical non-departmental public body in the UK which performs its functions independently and at arm’s length from the government ministers. It can act on its own motion to investigate alleged misconduct by the police officials. It can reopen probes where new evidence has emerged. The IOPC is also capable of taking disciplinary actions against police officers even if their home force disagrees with its findings and takes no action. It is being hoped that the IOPC would go a long way in further improving the state of police accountability in the UK.

Pakistan inherited the colonial-era Police Act, 1861 at the time of its independence. This law has extensively been criticised in the country on various grounds. However, despite all its flaws and shortcomings, this act provided an effective institutional check on the unfettered powers of the police. Under this law, from the sub-divisional magistrate to district magistrate, a hierarchy of executive magistrates was established to oversee and assist the police in important policing functions. These executive magistrates acted as intermediaries between the public and the police to avoid any untoward situation during public agitation and protest.

Replacing the Police Act 1861, the Police Order, 2002 was introduced by Gen Pervez Musharraf as part of his so-called devolution of power plan in Pakistan. Under this law, in the form of public safety commissions at the national, provincial and district levels, various statutory regulatory bodies were devised to regulate policing, and exercise some control over police officials in the interest of general public. Owing to lack of political will, and non-existence of local bodies institutions, these public safety commissions could not ever be constituted. In the absence of these public safety commissions, this newly-devised policing system has also failed to achieve its desired objectives. At present, their hardly exists any administrative accountability mechanism within the police organisation in any province.

In order to improve the general state of policing in the country, the government should focus on the substance instead of being obsessed with the form of the police organisation. There should also be an efficient institutional mechanism to regulate conduct, and exercise an effective check on the arbitrary powers of the police officials. Calling an IGP a PPO, a DIG an RPO and a district SP a DPO can help set things right. Nor can the Punjab Government’s typical old-wine-in-new-bottle move regarding changing the police uniform help improve the state of policing in Punjab. Noticeably, our police force has started behaving violently just like a vicious or violent horse. Therefore, it’s high time this ‘vicious horse’ must either be properly harnessed or otherwise effectively hobbled.


The writer is a lawyer and columnist based in Lahore.



Mohsin Raza Malik

The writer is a lawyer. He can be contacted at mohsinraza.malik@ymail.com. Follow him on Twitter

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